When Children Try to Tell

I’ve asked author Jane Rowan to join me in exploring some issues surrounding child sexual abuse. Jane’s book The River of Forgetting tells her story of painfully accessing her history of child sexual abuse and healing through a therapeutic relationship with a gifted helping professional. Jane chose Authentic Movement, art and journaling to help her heal.

My memoir, Confessions of a Trauma Therapist is, as you know, my account of how my lost memories surfaced and how I healed through yoga, Focusing, psychotherapy and journaling.

Our books are complementary. Two different stories of two women who became outwardly successful in spite of the depression and anxiety they suffered inside.

Telling is a subject that intrigues me. Why is it so terrifying to tell the secret we’ve carried for so long and that we kept secret even from ourselves. Where does all this fear originate? What happened in childhood when we tried to tell?

In her book, Jane describes her attempt to tell her mother that her father was sexually abusing her. She was five or six.  In this excerpt from her book, she is telling her psychotherapist about attempting to tell her mother:

“What happened?” Over and over, she says sharply, “What is it?! Tell me!”

I was sobbing wildly. “It is too harsh! I need to be asked, ‘How are you? How are you feeling?’ I need to be held and comforted and believed.”

The therapist replies, “Your mother didn’t listen to you. She asked you grown-up questions but she did not really listen to you respectfully.

“What happened? is a grown-up question. I needed her to ask, ‘How do you feel?  What can I do for you?’ I needed her to hold me.”

“You were very little. You needed more understanding.”

“And then she said, … ‘pretend it never happened. It’s best to forget about it. Nothing can be done. What’s done is done.’”

(The River of Forgetting, p.120)

Of this attempt of the little girl to tell her mother, the adult Jane says:

When my mother refused to listen after my father had abused me, this was a second and final betrayal. Sometimes this betrayal felt even worse than my father’s abuse. There was no one else to turn to, no one to witness my pain and confusion, no one to protect me. I was only five years old. So I had to dissociate, deny, and repress my knowledge in order to live in my family and get on with my life. I became a good girl. I forgot what had happened, retaining only one clear memory and a bunch of foggy fragments. I split off part of myself and left her behind, only reuniting with her fifty years later, after intensive work in therapy.

That’s Jane’s story. I don’t remember trying to tell my mother about my father and grandfather using me sexually, but I must have tried – and given up. I do remember telling her about Bert, the popular recreation director at the summer resort when I was seven.

Bert liked to carry children high on his shoulders. When it came my turn for the honour of riding on Bert’s shoulders, I was confused and uncomfortable to realize his hand was inside my underpants rubbing my genitals. I didn’t like it. I also felt ashamed. Troubled, I confided in my sister about what had happened. She assured me he did that to all the children and he’d tried to do the same thing to her. Stay away from him, she advised me. And I did.

It was months later that I decided to tell my mother the truth about Bert. His assault still bothered me and I hoped that, in telling her, I would feel better. No sooner had I got the words out of my mouth than she turned on me.

“You nasty little girl,” she almost screamed. “You must have enjoyed it.”

“No,” I protested. “I didn’t like it.”

“Well, if you hadn’t enjoyed it, you’d have told me.”

It was no use. I’d told her and now she looked on me as a bad girl. (Confessions of a Trauma Therapist, pages 171 & 172.)


Do you have a story to share about telling? Please comment below or go to Facebook Page “Confessions of a Trauma Therapist – Preventing Child Sexual Abuse.”

One comment

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